David and Scott Hillenbrand write and direct Transylmania, a horror comedy about a group of college students from America who travel to Romania to spend a semester at a college. Little do they know that the spirit of a Radu (Oren Skoog), a vampire, has awakened there to wreak havoc on the students. David and Scott Hillenbrand have previously co-directed National Lampoon Presents: Dorm Daze, Dorm Daze 2, Game Box 1.0, King Cobra, Demon Island, and Hostile Takeover. It was a pleasure to interview them both.
Full Circle Releasing opens Transylmania nationwide on December 4th, 2009.
Q: How did you find the right balance between comedy, horror and campiness?
A: Since Transylmania pulls in a large ensemble cast and covers alot of ground from the comedy, action, and horror standpoints, we wouldn't say the tone is quite in the "campy" camp since the characters play the moments seriously, and the humor comes out of the situations, locations, and story arcs. As an example, two of the characters (boyfriend/girlfriend Lynne and Newmar) make their decision to go to the study abroad program at Razvan University in Transylvania for the adventure of it and to explore their relationship. Newmar's been having some sexual challenges, shall we say, and so when he receives a book called the Codex Eroticon from his friend Rusty (who says, "it makes the Kama Sutra look like Martha Stewart's prison notes") he brings it into bed with Lynne. Meanwhile, Lynne unwittingly unleashes the soul of a Vampire/sorceress from a cursed music box, and the sorceress possesses Lynne's body whenever the music box is opened and playing. Newmar thinks her increasingly odd behavior (and role play?) is the result of the incredible sexual moves they just performed from the Codex Eroticon because Rusty told him that "the moves contained within are so powerful, they could literally blow a chick's mind." The comedy escalates to a fevered pitch as the Vampire coven returns to the castle and Lynne's possessed body reunites with her Vampire love, while her boyfriend fights to reclaim her. It's a most unusual love triangle. And we know that vampire love triangles are in the zeitgeist of today's audiences.
To find the right balance between all the elements, we did extensive rehearsals with the cast, both in studio and then at the actual locations, so that we could keep all the performances at a consistent tonal level. As far as the horror, we wanted to explore some of the recent trends with extreme gore - such as from the Saw and Hostel franchises---but turn it on its head when mixed with comedy. In another story arc in the film, the stoner characters and the blonde twins wind up stumbling upon a secret laboratory, where they discover a body being assembled limb by limb. The immediate audience reaction is shock and horror. Then, when the stoner character Wang accidentally pulls out the one long thread that keeps the body together [due to him being stoned], he takes it upon himself to reassemble the Franken-body and perform his own "substance-enhanced" surgery. The horror and the comedy collide, and what initially comes off to the audience as shocking horror is soon transformed into laugh-out-loud funny situations.
Q: At what point in your life did you know that comedy was meant for you?
A: We have studied, been involved with, and enjoyed comedies all our life, from being involved in stage productions such as a "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To the Forum," "Pirates of Penzance," "The Mikado", "Bells Are Ringing," etc., to being huge fans of the comedic film genre. As directors, we had made several horror/thriller features at the beginning of our career, and hit a point of being tired of coming to work each day and deciding new ways to kill people. We believe that comedy is extremely challenging, and that there is no hiding from it. People either laugh or they don't. We like that challenge, and it has been very gratifying to screen Transylmania across the country and watch the audience reactions. Transylmania, we feel, has a unique structure that in some ways mirrors classic farces like Shakespeare, Moliere, etc. The film starts out funny, but then builds throughout, as mistaken identities and character twists pile on top of each other so that the humor begins to be compounded, leading to large payoffs down the line. Nothing gives us greater joy than watching Transylmania play with an audience.
Q: What do you think makes vampires so appealing to audiences?
A: This question has been analyzed and dissected for decades. There have been serious cultural, social, and literary analyses done, as well as lighter pop culture discussions. Much has been written about the female draw to vampires and the romanticism and eroticism that the vampire lores contain. For us, we wanted to build on this already existing appeal and cross it with the college sex comedy experience. The idea of College Kids vs. Vampires grew out of reactions of audiences to the film, and the simplification of what they were finding so appealing. We think the most appealing aspects of vampires - the danger, recklessness, sexiness, and physical power - are all concepts that when you look at them in that list, they scream youth or young adult. The setting of a bunch of college kids who find themselves unable to get into any other study abroad program except this one in the heart of Transylvania, with the university housed in a castle that is infested with vampires, has proven to have a very strong appeal to moviegoers of all ages. And this backdrop allowed for a great playing field of comedic possibilities.
Q: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a horror comedy into a classic? What are some examples of those classics?
A: One of the classics that we drew inspiration from was Young Frankenstein. We think this is one of Mel Brooks' best. Similar to that film, our goal was to create a comedy that didn't spoof individual scenes or moments from other films, but rather told its own story and had fun with the entire genre. Transylmania even includes a few moments as an homage to Young Frankenstein. Zombieland was successful in a similar manner by having fun with the zombie genre, while telling its own story. Many thought Shaun of the Dead was also a fresh take on the horror comedy, and we would agree. Of course, there is the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Love at First Bite, and the Scary Movie franchise. As you see, these examples are actually quite diverse and each film is fairly unique to the other. We think that turning a horror comedy into a classic only happens with time and in retrospect. We hope audiences come check out Transylmania when it opens this weekend, and that they continue to enjoy it for years to come. There is quite a lot packed into Transylmania, and many have told us they found it as funny the second time as the first, because they discovered even more humor the second time due to all the elements laced throughout.